Beers for your Thanksgiving Table

Growing up, Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday, but in the past 5 years or so, it has almost grown to a mythical status. Instead of it just being another holiday, it has become my holy day. A large part of that is due to my training and certification with the CiceroneⓇ Program, which required me to immerse myself in the world of beer and food pairing. Thanksgiving has now become the perfect opportunity to do a beer pairing dinner, and I look forward to it all year.

Speaking of beer pairings, there is a lot of interest as to what style of beer to bring to Thanksgiving dinner in lieu of wine, and with good reason. Beer will pair much better than wine as the “typical” Thanksgiving dinner will be rich and savory, with several items on the plate, and the carbonation of the beer will scrub the palate and allow the flavors from the next fork to shine through, especially if you jump around to different dishes on the plate.

We have gotten into the habit of doing Thanksgiving in several courses, with each course coming out 60-90 min apart from each other. I like the practice of spreading out thoughtful, small plates rather than grazing all day on dips, chips and other apps. While your menu might differ a bit from mine, here are some of my favorite beer styles to sip on Thanksgiving:

  1. American Pale Ale. I like APAs at my house on Thanksgiving as a sipping beer for in between courses. Neither the alcohol or bitterness is overpowering, so you don’t have to worry about this beer wrecking your palate before a more subtle small plate comes out. I like APAs with a ceviche appetizer, and they could also work real well with the main course. Especially with a west coast style APA with an orange like quality, the citrus aspect would add a nice compliment to the dish, the maltiness would compliment the roasted flavor of the meat and the fats and bitterness would cancel each other out, allowing other flavors to shine through. For a cheese course, try it with an Extra Sharp Cheddar.
    Joyride recommendation: Cougar Pale Ale
    Non-Joyride recommendations: Firestone Walker Pale 31, Deschutes Mirror Pond, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

  2. Oktoberfest (Märzen). The toasty and bready flavors from the malt will pair well with earthy and savory dishes, while the sweetness from the malt will calm the heat on spicy dishes. We use at least a 6 pack of Oktoberfest in the brine for our turkey, which adds rich melanoidin flavors to the skin and seeps into the meat. The beer will work well with almost any type of pork sausage and will work great with a spicier cheese.
    Non-Joyride recommendations: Paulaner, Ayinger, Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr

  3. Fruited and fruited sour beers. Depending on your menu, you could break out the fruits and sours at several different times. I have used them as a “welcome” beer before, and the color and carbonation look lovely, especially in a champagne flute glass. I have also used it as a palate cleanser in between courses. Between the sourness and the carbonation, it will scrub the palate and help reset it. Try it with Aged Brie for your cheese course. This can also be your secret weapon with desserts as well. Pairing a Kriek (cherries) or a Framboise (raspberries) with a heavy chocolate dish or cheesecake can be divine.
    Joyride recommendation: So Fresh and So Cream Ale w/Blueberries (not sour, but wonderful color and blueberry flavor)
    Non-Joyride recommendations: Any fruit beer from New Glarus, Odell Friek, Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, Cascade Brewing, Supplication or Consecration from Russian River, Dry Dock Apricot Blonde

  4. Saison. When it comes to pairing with food, you’re not going to find a safer choice than Saison, especially with a wide range of different foods. It’s light enough to pair with fish and the classic pairing is mussels with garlic, parsley and butter. It’s also substantial enough to stand up to hearty dishes like lamb, where the earthy flavors will compliment each other while the carbonation will help cut through the fat. With roast turkey, the earthy flavors will again compliment each other, while the palate scrubbing will prepare your tongue for each new bite, especially if you jump around to different dishes on the plate. Saison is my all time favorite beer for pairing with food, as it goes with almost everything. Try it with Humboldt Fog from Cypress Grove.
    Joyride recommendations: Breast in Show (heavy on the grapefruit), Boxer (not currently on tap)
    Non-Joyride recommendations: Ommegang Hennepin, Boulevard Tank 7, Funkwerks Saison, Crooked Stave Surrette or Vielle

  5. Belgian Dubbel. This is another style of beer that benefits from it’s higher carbonation. (see a theme?) The dark dried fruit flavors from fermentation will pair with a variety of side dishes, as well as the turkey itself. Pork, especially sausages and chops will pair well, think of a cherry glaze on top of the meat with the fat getting scrubbed out. Belgian Dubbels, as well as their stronger cousin Belgian Dark Strongs, are my favorite beers for steak. They’ll pair up with smoked BBQ as well, so if you’re planning on smoking your turkey, give this style a try. For cheese, I’d stick with any Belgian abbey types. The monasteries will often times make both these beers and cheeses, so they’re a natural fit.
    Joyride recommendation: Defiance Belgian Dubbel (sorry, no growlers)
    Non-Joyride recommendation: Westmalle, Westvleteren (if you have some, then good for you!), Rochefort, Chimay, Ommegang, Lost Abbey Lost & Found

  6. Bière de Garde. If you really want a wow factor at your table, go to the specialty stores and find an example of this beauty. This French style ale is my absolute favorite to pair with the main course of Thanksgiving dinner. It’s somewhat similar to a saison, except instead of funky and spicy, it’s more rich and malty, with toasty, bready, and caramel flavors. The carbonation is on the higher end with a slight alcohol warming. If you have a “typical” menu of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, vegetables and cranberry sauce, you’ll see how this beer will go with all of them. This is the style I’ll be serving during the main course, but you could also try it alongside a Camembert.
    Non-Joyride recommendations: Jenlain, Lost Abbey Avant Garde, Russian River Perdition, Two Brothers Domaine du Page

  7. Holiday, Winter Warmers and Spice beers. Typically, these beers will be a little bigger in body, so the rich flavors will stand up to the richness of the dish, while the spices in the brew will add extra complexity to the plate. Pumpkin beers can go well with pumpkin pie, but sometimes they mimic each other too much and kind of cancel each other out. Depending on your brine and seasoning, pumpkin beers will often times go better with the main course then dessert.
    Joyride recommendation: Scarecrow Pumpkin Ale
    Non-Joyride recommendation: Anchor Christmas Ale, Bruery Autumn Maple, Deschutes Jubelale, Great Divide Hibernation, Avery Jubilation, Anderson Valley Winter Solstice, Southern Tier Pumpking, Sierra Nevada Tumbler

  8. Stouts and Porters. Want a layup for your dessert course? Break out a chocolatey stout or porter. If you’re making pumpkin, cherry or apple pie, the chocolate and roast flavors will provide a perfect contrast to the fruit flavors. I mean, chocolate covered cherries, anyone? A vanilla version would be totally appropriate with pumpkin pie, as it would be like serving it a la mode. They would also be wonderful with a cheesecake, whether plain, fruited or chocolate. Planning on making something with a large amount of caramel flavor? It will still work. Triple chocolate cake? Check. You can even make beer floats. One time I paired Stone’s Imperial Stout with Cherry Garcia from Ben & Jerry’s. I’ve also made a float with Maui’s Coconut Porter and coconut ice cream. Both were fantastic. Unless you’re going with a simple fruit parfait, I’d say you’ll be pretty safe pairing a stout or porter with dessert. You could also do a cheese course for dessert, in which case I really like an aged Gouda with an Imperial Stout.
    Joyride recommendation: Bear Paw Oatmeal Milk Stout
    Non-Joyride recommendations: Dry Dock Vanilla Porter or Double Vanilla Porter, Great Divide Yeti, Left Hand Milk Stout, Stone Imperial Stout, Maui Coconut Porter, Rogue Double Chocolate Stout

At the end of the day, my best piece of advice would be to drink what you like. If you don’t like Saisons, I don’t know if you’ll necessarily start liking them when paired with a dish. Who knows? Maybe you will! But if you’re willing to experiment with different flavor profiles, I’m confident that you’ll be happy with my recommendations. Buck the trend this year! Instead of bringing a bottle of wine, bring a few bombers of fantastic craft beer and show your friends and family something different.

From our family to yours, we’d like to wish you an incredible Thanksgiving. Hop On!

~Dave